Early academic alerts – do they work?

From today’s UGE Update “Reading for the Week” from Dr. Ben Withers, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education:

Our increased focus on student success has revived interest in early academic alerts. Before mid-term faculty and staff submitted over 3000 alerts, compared to about 2900 for Fall 2013. One key purpose of early academic alerts is to provide students and advisors with information about performance or other issues impacting performance (such as absences) before the mid-term, providing additional time for the student to recover.

Review of the literature on early alerts suggests that the links between the alerts and retention is correlational at best. Rather than the indirect ties to measures such as retention rates, the value of early alerts should be sought in the direct impact on grades and successful completion of courses (as emphasized in this study, this survey, and Alfred Essa cited in this article).

Submit an Alert

See UGE website for more about student alerts at UK.

Here at UK, we know that first semester grades are highly important indicators for retention, progression and student success (A 2010 UKIRAA Study of Student Attrition found that “For students who earned a UK GPA under 3.0, the most important factor in leaving UK was Academic Problems, followed by Classes related issues and Advising/Student Support.”) In a similar fashion, mid-term grades are highly important indicators of a student’s probable final semester grades. We also know that for many students, mid-term is already too late for them to recover; older data can be found in this UGE report.

Early Alerts are an institution’s signal to students that academic expectations are high, a way of reinforcing the standards of individual instructors, and a means to identify and direct resources to students at-risk.

To this end:

1. Early Alerts should be seen as supplement to, not replacement for, communication from the faculty to the student about expectations and issues with class performance.

2. Early Alerts are vital links between faculty and staff, communicating to students’ advisors or residence hall directors what they see is happening in the classroom, including but not limited to:

  • Missing classes or habitually late in the first few weeks
  • Not completing assignments or failing early quizzes
  • Behaving in a disruptive manner in class

3. Early Alerts enable advisors and other support staff to reinforce the instructor’s message to students. They assist advisors in recognizing that a student is at-risk and needs to change those behaviors that have placed the student in danger of failure or dropping out. Early Alerts allow advisors to support faculty efforts and to initiate interventions that connect students with appropriate university resources.

4. Early Alerts also allow advisors to see patterns (for example, if the student is missing classes in more than one course) that an individual instructor would not be able to see if working with the student in isolation.

Academic alerts continue to have value after mid-term, though they are not a critically important since we now have established (and hopefully reliable) information about academic performance (i.e. mid-term grades) and students are entering a period where they should have more direct contact with advisors (priority registration). Academic and Behavioral alerts are important after mid-term if a student begins exhibiting habits/patterns that have not occurred before and/or are not typical.

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About UK Student and Academic Life

Undergraduate Education is now recreated within the Division of Student and Academic Life in the Provost's Office at the University of Kentucky.
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